Preparation for Vince Pachel's career as a mechanical engineer at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center began early through a father who sparked – and nurtured – his son's interest in the field.
Pachel's father, John, was a machinist and auto mechanic. He taught auto mechanics at what then was Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College and now is part of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Later, he also operated an auto repair shop in his hometown of Wiggins.
"Watching him, working with him, I became interested in mechanical types of things," Pachel says. "He taught me the trade."
As college drew near, Pachel naturally found himself leaning toward the field of engineering, particularly mechanical engineering.
He studied at the nearby community college for two years, then transferred to Mississippi State in Starkville. While there, he entered a co-op program with Dow Chemical. He spent several semesters dividing his time between studies at State and on-the-job training with Dow in Texas.
After earning his bachelor's degree, Pachel headed for Fort Worth, Texas, where he worked for General Dynamics. At the time, the company was building the F-16 aircraft, and Pachel was assigned to the engineering test lab. For a time, he focused on testing the ejection system for the aircraft.
In 1991, Pachel moved back to his native state to fill a position on the propulsion test team at Stennis. He settled in nearby Gulfport, where he lives with his wife, Katrina, and two children, Anna Marie, 13, and Nathan, 10.
Upon arrival at Stennis, one of his first assignments involved construction of the E Test Complex, where engineers use ultra-high-pressure gases and cryogenic fluids in rocket propulsion testing.
Much of the work at the E Test Complex is focused on research and development, and Pachel spent 15 years in that area. He worked at all three of the test stands at the complex. "I was involved in a little bit of everything," Pachel says.
When Stennis engineers began power pack testing for development of the J-2X engine, Pachel was selected as a member of that team, placing him at the forefront of the future of space exploration. The J-2X engine will be used to help power the new Ares I crew launch vehicle and Ares V cargo launch vehicle that are the centerpiece of NASA's Constellation Program to go back to the moon and possibly travel beyond.
Stennis has been given the responsibility of testing the new engine.
"It's been a challenge, having to learn all new systems, a whole new test stand," Pachel acknowledged. However, he quickly understood the importance of the work.
After early testing of components that will be adapted to the J-2X, engineers at the historic A-1 Test Stand now are preparing the structure for additional testing of the J-2X engine.
"If we don't succeed, Constellation won't succeed," Pachel notes. "There are a lot of high expectations attached to all this – and we certainly aren't going to let anybody down."
One person already impressed with the work under way at Stennis is Pachel's father, now 86. He has had the opportunity to tour the facility test stands with his son. As one might expect, the longtime machinist/mechanic "got a real kick out of that," Pachel says.
For information about Stennis Space Center, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/.
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